Election in the New Testament – Part 1

Posted by Bob Mattes

The Federal Vision folks like to say that their view is more Biblical, that they use words in a more Biblical way than classic Reformed formulations. Seven orthodox Reformed denominations have found otherwise, yet the Federal Vision myths persist. Dr. R. F. White wrote a comment on another thread that again struck at the heart of Federal Vision’s defective hermeneutic. In response to Jared, Dr. White wrote:

You [jared] say, “The only manner in which a reprobate can call himself elect is to the extent and duration that he is a member of the visible body.” – I reply, But we would agree that the most important issue is, does God call a reprobate person elect to the extent and duration that he is a member of the visible body, or, for that matter, does God call a reprobate person elect to any extent or duration at all?

This cuts to the heart of Federal Vision’s mythical “objective covenant” and reminded me of a post that I started over a year ago but never finished – until today. Bottom line question: Are there indeed people who are “elect” for a time by virtue of their membership in the visible church but lose that “election” through covenant unfaithfulness? In two letters or less, NO. The New Testament knows no such category of temporary “election,” either inside or outside of the visible church. Allow me to back up that statement.

Although such an inquiry involves more than mere word study, looking at the usage of key terms in Scripture provides a good starting point. I used Logos Bible Software’s Original Languages Library to find all the underlying Greek occurrences for the term “elect” in the New Testament. Using Logos’ electronic version of the ESV English-Greek Interlinear New Testament, here are all 33 occurrences of the Greek underlying “elect” and its related forms in the New Testament in their context:

ἐκλεκτός (24)
Adjective, accusative elect (7)
Matt 24:22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being * would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
Matt 24:24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
Matt 24:31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. *
Mark 13:20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being * would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.
Mark 13:22 • False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.
Mark 13:27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
2 Tim 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

Adjective, dative elect (2)
1 Pet 1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cap-padocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
2 John 1 The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth,

Adjective, genitive elect (5)
Luke 18:7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? • Will he delay long over them?
Rom 8:33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
1 Tim 5:21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.
Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,
2 John 13 The children of your elect sister greet you.

Substantive, accusative elect (7)
Matt 24:22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being * would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
Matt 24:24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
Matt 24:31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. *
Mark 13:20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being * would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.
Mark 13:22 • False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.
Mark 13:27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
2 Tim 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

Substantive, genitive elect (3)
Luke 18:7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? • Will he delay long over them?
Rom 8:33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,

ἐκλογή (4)
Noun, accusative election (3)
Rom 9:11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad— in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call—
Rom 11:28 • As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.
2 Pet 1:10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

Noun, nominative elect
Rom 11:7 What then? Israel • failed to obtain what it was seeking. • The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened,

ὁ (5)
Definite Article, accusative elect (2), election
Matt 24:31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Mark 13:27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
Rom 11:28 • As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.

Definite Article, genitive elect (2)
Luke 18:7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? • Will he delay long over them?
2 John 13 The children of your elect sister greet you.

Like the Bereans, judge for yourselves. As you can see from the context of the New Testament usage of the Greek terms, every single mention of the elect and their election refers to those chosen before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). That’s the only kind of elect known to the New Testament writers. There’s no temporary election of any kind in sight. I already posted that the Bible’s use of the term “covenant” differs significantly from the Federal Vision usage.  I may follow this up with a more detailed view of the Bible’s use of the term “covenant.” If the analogy of faith means anything, then verses like Hebrews 6:4 must be interpreted with the context of election as taught in the New Testament.

In my mind, it all goes back to the defective Federal Vision hermeneutical framework based on their mythical “objective covenant.” That requires, as I pointed out here, viewing the New Testament through the lens of the Old Testament, similar to the approach of dispensationalists. This is the opposite of the Reformed approach which recaptured the gospel of grace.

We certainly study the whole counsel of Scripture, Old and New Testaments together. Against Marcion and others, we leave nothing out. But only when we approach and open the Old Testament through the lens of the New as Jesus did for his disciples, followed by Paul and others in their letters, do we arrive at the true gospel of grace rediscovered by Luther, Calvin and the orthodox Reformed theologians who followed. We most decidedly do not arrive at the Federal Vision. That’s not just  my opinion, but that of our Reformed fathers confirmed seven orthodox Reformed denominations.

Posted by Bob Mattes

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80 Comments

  1. Stephen Welch said,

    January 31, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Thank you, Bob for this helpful post. I appreciate the Scripture references that you refer to about the doctrine of election. I find it deplorable that this doctrine of election, which is so basic to Calvinism is being rejected by those who claim to be Calvinists. Paul clearly teaches that it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise. The clear simple teaching of Romans 9 is what led me to embrace Calvinism 27 years ago. There are only two classes of people; the elect and the reprobate. All those who are members of the visible church are not of the elect, some are indeed reprobate. We have the responsibility as pastors to teach our covenant people that if they reject Christ and do not walk by faith they like many in Israel will not enter into the promised rest. There is no such teaching in the Scriptures about a temporary election. God has promised He will persevere His saints to the end. Noone who is elect can ever lose that status. Any teaching that contradicts Scripture on this precious doctrine is a denial of the gospel.

  2. January 31, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Stephen,

    Thank you for your kind words and pertinent observations. We must all continue to stand for the sheep being misled by these errors and not grow weary in so doing good.

    Blessings,
    Bob

  3. Stephen Welch said,

    January 31, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Amen!

  4. revkev1967 said,

    January 31, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Superb post, Bob. Keep the faith.

  5. jared said,

    January 31, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Two things should be noted: (1) I’m not an FV advocate (properly speaking at least) and (2) no one in the FV denies the “Calvinist” doctrine of election (as far as I know).

  6. greenbaggins said,

    January 31, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Jared, the point is this fuzzy middle category of non-decretally-elect-but-covenantally-elect. That’s what denies the Calvinist doctrine of election, not explicitly, but implicitly, by assuming that one can be covenantally elect, but then lose it. The Bible does not speak of losable election. Period.

  7. January 31, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    [...] via Election in the New Testament – Part 1 « Green Baggins. [...]

  8. January 31, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    jared,

    1) Noted, but I have to say that you sound like one.

    2) As far as you know. But that aside, that wasn’t my point. My point is that there is no other kind of temporary election associated with a mythical “objective covenant.” Scripture only knows of two categories: elect or reprobate. There’s nothing in between.

  9. January 31, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    revkev1967,

    Thank you for your kind words and encouragement.

  10. January 31, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    RE #7,

    Here again is an example of the reverse hermeneutic of Federal Vision. First, I’ve already shown that 1 Peter was explicitly written to the elect, so it is the elect that are the royal priesthood, etc. The fact that Peter makes an indirect reference to an OT passage doesn’t mean that he’s equating anything. As Dr. White makes clear on the other thread, there is not a 1-to-1 correspondence between God’s temporal covenant with Israel at Sinai and the New Covenant of redemption in Christ. Paul makes it clear that they are far from equivalent in Gal 2:16; 3:10,11, et al. This inconvenient fact seems to be a sticking point with Federal Visionists, and probably traces back to their theonomic roots.

    As for John 6:70, Jesus never says that Judas was chosen for eternal life. To the contrary, Judas was chosen to fulfill the plan of redemption through his wickedness. This is made clear in John 17:12 (see Ps 41:9 and Jn 13:18). Here’s Jesus in Jn:13:17,18:

    If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’

    Judas is a classic example of the reprobates in sight in Matthew 7:23. As Jesus said, we would know them by their fruits.

    The only way you can get these (or any) verses to support Federal Vision is to use the Federal Vision hermaneutic of interpreting the NT through the lens of the OT–forcing Scripture through the sieve of a mythical “objective covenant”–contrary to the example of Jesus and classic Reformed theology.

  11. Vern Crisler said,

    January 31, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Lot of good points, Bob, but you guys should understand that FV isn’t so much about the theology of the church as it is about the sociology of the church. (Recall Jim Jordan’s title, The SOCIOLOGY of the Church. Cf.,

    http://www.entrewave.com/freebooks/docs/a_pdfs/jjsc.pdf

    This is why FV advocates seem so duplicitous or sophistical in their claims. The affirm x at one point, then when criticized, they deny x, or say they meant it in a different sense. It’s because they are going back and forth between sociology and theology, and thus confusing everyone.

    They DO NOT deny decretal election. What they deny is ASSURANCE based on decretal election. Their “objective covenant” flows from this basic premiss. They now want assurance to be based on the covenant only. As I’ve said before, FV begins with a Kantian epistemology, and it’s no wonder they end up in a phenomenalistic dead end.

    BTW, I think it’s wrong to say their hermeneutic starts from the Old Testament rather than the New. The Old Testament doesn’t teach assurance based on an external covenant either.

    No, their error is their own.

    Vern

  12. January 31, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Vern,

    Thank you for your insightful comments. I hadn’t thought about the sociological vs. theological angle. I only read Jordan when I have a spreadsheet handy to decipher his secret Bible codes. :-)

    Perhaps I communicated my point about the OT unclearly. I didn’t mean to imply that the OT was the problem, only that the way the federal visionists use it to trump the NT. I absolutely agree that they own their errors.

    Blessings,
    Bob

  13. jared said,

    January 31, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Lane,

    I don’t think it denies election implicitly either, not in every FVist’s case at least. I can agree that Scripture doesn’t speak directly about a “losable election” but your theology needs to account for those seeds which grow but don’t make it to the harvest somehow. It needs to account for those who are among us but not really of us. The FV, to some extent, seems to want to disband the concept of “judgment of charity” and I’ve yet to see a good reason for why it shouldn’t be done away with given their “equivocations”. Or, rather, I should say I don’t see why their way strikes at the vitals of the Reformed faith when it seems clear they affirm all of the essentials.

    Bob (#8),

    (1) Fair enough.

    (2) I agree that there’s only two categories. I think FV agrees too. The reprobate, regardless of their covenant status, are never headed toward heaven. I think the category “temporary salvation” is a kind of misnomer, but the concept can be very helpful and insightful if have the patience and mind to dig around it.

    Vern (#11)

    FV doesn’t deny assurance at all, explicitly or implicitly.

  14. rfwhite said,

    January 31, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    The link from the friends of Greenbaggins at Once More With Feeling is a good example of the hermeneutical challenges we, critics and defenders of FV, face in this debate. Shall we not draw the line from Moses to Peter to establish the continuities between the election of Israel and the Church? To be sure, but shall we not also draw the lines from Moses to Peter to highlight the discontinuities between the election of Israel and the Church? Doesn’t Moses identify the elect nation as such by their descent from the fathers and make their identity conditional on their obedience? Doesn’t Peter identify the elect nation as such by their faith in Jesus, whose own obedience and election has qualified the nation unconditionally such that they “are” already by faith the elect nation? It seems clear that the election of Israel was a shadow and type of the election of the Church, and the latter’s election is unconditional because of the obedience and election of Jesus.

  15. Vern Crisler said,

    January 31, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    Hi Jared,
    Please reread my third paragraph. It appears you may have read it too quickly.

    Vern

  16. January 31, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    RE #13,

    Federal Visionists have clearly written about their “covenantally elect” receiving temporary salvific benefits. For example, Steve Wilkins’ wrote in the book The Federal Vision (Monroe, Louisiana: Athanasius Press, 2004), “Covenant, Baptism, and Salvation” on page 62 concerning reprobates from the visible church:

    They may enjoy for a season the blessings of the covenant, including the forgiveness of sins, adoption, possession of the kingdom, sanctification, etc., and yet apostatize and fall short of the grace of God.

    All this happens as a result of “baptismal regeneration lite” (my term – wets good, less lasting) into the mythical objective covenant. Wilkins was never condemned or disavowed by federal visionists, so draw your own conclusions. And Wilkins isn’t the furthest one off of the reservation.

  17. jared said,

    January 31, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Vern (#15),

    No, I read it carefully. The FV bases assurance in the “objective covenant” to the extent that a given member is able to discern their election. Moreover, this revelation is just that, a knowledge given to them via the Holy Spirit’s testimony with their own spirit and continued faithfulness. I can’t look at my covenant status and be assured unless decretal election is underlying that status.

    Bob (#16),

    Okay. How does this demonstrate that there are more than two categories of people? Those who receive “temporary salvific benefits” are still reprobates.

  18. January 31, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    jared, RE #17,

    The point is that according to Scripture and the Standards, no one receives “temporary salvific benefits” because there are no such things. To say that there are tramples on the blood of Jesus which bought the salvation of the elect. I think that we’re getting caught up in the trees and missing the forest here.

  19. Vern Crisler said,

    February 1, 2009 at 12:56 am

    jared, in FV theology, you can’t have insight into the decree, so you can’t base your assurance on it. You have to look at the covenant. Hence the often repeated FV line that you shouldn’t look at covenant in light of election, but election in light of covenant. Come jared, this is FV 101. Why are you trying to evade it by inventing your own version of FV, then ascribing it to the original?

    Vern

  20. Ron Henzel said,

    February 1, 2009 at 6:03 am

    Jared,

    You wrote:

    [...]your theology needs to account for those seeds which grow but don’t make it to the harvest somehow.

    Biological life is not spiritual life. None of the relevant biblical illustrations or parables make that equation, or use mere biological life as a symbol for true spiritual life.

    In the parable of the sower and the seed (Matt. 13:3-9), it is neither the seed nor the crop it yields but the soil that represents the individual who hears God’s word (Matt. 13:18-23). The seed represents the word of God. The reason the seed (God’s word) does not make it to harvest (i.e., bear fruit) is because the soil (the human heart) is not receptive to it.

    Even though in the case of the parable of the sower and the seed, the soil is the actual subject of the parable rather than either the sower or the seed, it nevertheless serves as an example of how in biblical illustrations it is fruit-bearing that is used to demonstrate true spiritual life (as we also find in Isaiah 5 and John 15), and not mere biological life.

    You also wrote:

    It needs to account for those who are among us but not really of us.

    I do not see how this presents any difficulty at all to classic Reformed theology. Just because you live in a garage doesn’t make you a car. These people are merely hypocrites. As WCF 18:1 states, they are “hypocrites and unregenerate men” who “vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God, and estate of salvation (which hope of theirs shall perish).”

    The real difficulty lies not with classic Reformed theology, but with the FV, which extends benefits of salvation to those who are not of us in defiance of that fact that Scripture limits those benefits to true believers.

  21. Ron Henzel said,

    February 1, 2009 at 6:21 am

    To Bob (#10) & Dr. White (#14),

    But don’t you think Mark Horne has actually done us a tremendous favor by calling our attention here to the FV’s Secret List of Which Terms Are Always Univocal and Which Terms Are Not?

    (And has Horne gone and changed the name of his blog again?)

  22. jared said,

    February 1, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Bob (#18),

    It’s important to remember that there’s no forest without trees.

    Vern (#19),

    Doug and Lane have already gone over this. Doug says, “Confidence that you are decretally elect is the conclusion, not the premise. And this is what Westminster teaches.” (WCF 18.3) Because decretal election is the basis of assurance (WCF 18.2) it can only be attained by those who “truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before Him” (WCF 18.1). So it looks to me like “FV 101″ is also “WCF 101″ in this particular instance.

    Ron Henzel (#20),

    1. It’s weird to me that you say “biological life is not spiritual life” and then you emphasize that it is fruit-bearing which demonstrates true spiritual life. It’s also weird to me that you say the “soil” is not receptive to the “seed” yet the only instance in which the seed doesn’t grow is when the birds come along to snatch it up. Growing seems to me to be indicative of reception in some degree (clearly only one way produces the desired result, but no one is disagreeing about that). Maybe I should have taken some agriculture classes instead of philosophy classes?

    2. I never said classic Reformed theology has difficulty with accounting for those who are among us but not really of us. You say, “Just because you live in a garage doesn’t make you a car.” and I agree. The problem is apostates don’t just live in the garage, they actually have a chassis, wheels, doors, upholstery and, in some cases, pretty sweet paint jobs. What they don’t have is an engine. So I see classic Reformed theology saying (rightly) just what you say here, being in the garage doesn’t make you a car. The FV takes another step and points out that even though it looks like a car but the true “test” is whether it runs like one or not. I don’t see classic Reformed theology and FV theology at odds on this point. Both agree that reprobates are reprobates and decretally elect are decretally elect.

  23. Vern Crisler said,

    February 1, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    jared, please see:

    http://www.hornes.org/theologia/rich-lusk/covenant-election-faqs

    And for those who don’t want to read the whole article, here are relevant quotes:

    “But we cannot peer into the eternal decrees of God to see his roll of chosen ones. Nor do we have spiritual X-ray vision (‘cardio-analytic abilities’, as one theologian puts it) that allows us to gaze into the depths of our hearts to see if we are really regenerate. But here is a place where the Bible must be allowed to trump the deductions we might otherwise draw from premises provided by systematic theology. The inspired writers, after all, often speak of the covenant people of God as elect. And surely this knowledge of who is elect cannot be due simply to the fact that the Spirit is working in them as they write. Continually, the apostles address real words of comfort and assurance to visible churches – often very troubled visible churches! – and this is to serve as a model for pastors today. Our theology must allow us to speak the gospel in the first and second person, in a very personal and direct way. If Paul had been writing Eph. 1 as a modern Calvinist, he would had to have said, “He chose some of us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame…” But Paul’s theology of election permits him to speak of the whole covenant community as elect in Christ, even when he knows some members of that congregation will apostatize (cf. Acts 20:28-30). We could also compare Paul’s strong words of comfort to the elect in the Roman congregation in Rom. 8, with the strong warning given to those same people a few chapters later (11:17ff). I suggest ‘viewing election through the lens of the covenant’ is one helpful way of conceptualizing what Paul is doing in texts such as these. Paul is treating the generally, or corporately, elect, as specially elect until and unless they prove otherwise.”

    “We can truly derive comfort and encouragement from our covenant membership. God loves everyone in the covenant. Period. You don’t have to wonder if God loves you or your baptized children. There is no reason to doubt God’s love for you. You can tell your fellow, struggling Christian, “You’re forgiven! Christ paid for your sins!” This is far more helpful than only being able to tell someone, “Well, Christ died for his elect, and hopefully you’re one of them!” No, looking at election through the lens of the covenant, as Scripture does, allows us to really and truly apply the promises of Scripture to ourselves and our fellow covenant members. Election does not have to remain an abstraction; through the covenant, it is ‘brought down to earth’, so to speak. Of course, the other side to this is that now we are also obligated to warn one another in the covenant community of the dangers of falling away.”

    FV101.

    Vern

  24. Richard said,

    February 1, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    The way I look at this issue is rather simple:

    For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

    That is to say, all who are baptised are elected corporately but that in no way implies that they are decretally elect rather we are to heed the call of St. Peter to “make every effort to confirm your calling and election” and the writer of Hebrews

    “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold firmly till the end our original conviction. As has just been said:
    “Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
    as you did in the rebellion.”

    Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.”

  25. Ron Henzel said,

    February 1, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Jared,

    You wrote:

    It’s weird to me that you say “biological life is not spiritual life” and then you emphasize that it is fruit-bearing which demonstrates true spiritual life.

    As I clarified in my very first paragraph, all I am saying is that mere biological life does not automatically equate with true spiritual life. According to the Scriptures, this is true in the strictest literal sense, and it is also true of the symbolism used in the parables of Christ. Rather, fruit-bearing (which as a verbal cannot in any case be identical with biological life but is an activity of it) is the actual figure employed in both the Old and New Testaments (Isa. 5; Matt. 13; Jn 15) to symbolize true spiritual life, because people who are truly alive spiritually produce true spiritual fruit. What’s so weird about that?

    You wrote:

    It’s also weird to me that you say the “soil” is not receptive to the “seed” yet the only instance in which the seed doesn’t grow is when the birds come along to snatch it up.

    Now you seem to be quibbling over allegedly imprecise terminology in order to completely avoid my point that the parable is not about the life that comes from the seed as much as it’s about the soil. The seed is the word; the soil is the human heart. Jesus made this abundantly clear in his interpretation of the parable (Matt. 13:18-23). And yet nowhere in that interpretation does the soil exhibit “signs of life;” rather there are some cases in which the word seems to do so, by taking root in the soil for a while, but there’s only one case in which it actually survives, thrives, and produces fruit in a person’s heart (which is, once again, represented by the soil, not the seed or the plant).

    Growing seems to me to be indicative of reception in some degree (clearly only one way produces the desired result, but no one is disagreeing about that).

    Sure, perhaps we can talk about “reception in some degree,” but not obviously not receptivity to any degree that indicates that the soil (i.e., the human heart) is truly hospitable to the seed (i.e., the word) in most cases. After all, in what sense can soil that prematurely kills off the plant that springs from a seed be said to be “receptive” to that seed? Only the good soil was truly congenial to the seed; all the other examples were actually hostile to it—it just took time for that hostility to become obvious.

    The life that comes from the seed in this parable represents the activity of the word of God in a person’s life. In some people, the word will appear to have no impact whatsoever. In others it may seem very active for a while. But only in one group in the Lord’s parable does it ultimately bear fruit.

    Thus this is not at all about different types of seed or plants that spring from them, for in each case the seed is the living and powerful word of God. It’s about different types of soil, which has no life inherent in itself, but can only provide the conditions for life, and the only soil that provides those conditions in the parable is the good soil that has been prepared by God, and the fallow ground of the heart has been broken up to receive the seed (Hosea 10:12).

    Maybe I should have taken some agriculture classes instead of philosophy classes?

    How about some hermeneutics classes instead of either?

  26. February 1, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Vern,

    Thanks for the link. Lusk, of course, is one of the furthest off the reservation. That the site owner hosts Lusk’s views is telling.

    As you know, the theological holes in that FAQ are legion. As I’ve shown, covenant and decretal election are not generally equated in Scripture save in the covenant of grace narrowly considered. FVers conflate the conditional national covenants of the OT with the non-conditional covenant of grace that spans both Testaments.

    Ephesians was addressed to the elect (see v. 1), so there was no need to qualify any statements there. When Paul did address the visible church, he used the judgment of charity, just as each of us does every Sunday from the pulpit. FV purports to fix something that isn’t broken.

    The PCA study report on FV/NPP covered the covenant-related issues quite well. The 35th GA commend it for careful study by the flock. Folks can get a copy at the PCA History Center. I heartily recommend it to all.

  27. David Gray said,

    February 1, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    >I heartily recommend it to all.

    I would imagine so…

  28. rfwhite said,

    February 1, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    21 Ron, it seems the list of terms that is not univocal is empty.

  29. jared said,

    February 1, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    Vern (#23),

    I don’t think any of what Mark says is at odds with WCF 18. In fact, the only time WCF 18 mentions election is in noting that “it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure”. Mark is right, we don’t get to “peer into the eternal decrees of God”, that isn’t how we know we are elect. We know we are elect because we see the results of it and God’s Spirit testifies with our spirit then we can rightfully conclude that we are elect (i.e. then we can have assurance). This is what WCF 18 teaches and if it is FV 101 then it is also WCF 101. Or maybe the FV is just “WCF-like”? Viewing election “through the lens of the covenant” is not just one helpful way of looking at it, it’s how the WCF looks at it, at least as far as assurance is concerned.

    Ron Henzel (#25),

    You say,

    As I clarified in my very first paragraph, all I am saying is that mere biological life does not automatically equate with true spiritual life. According to the Scriptures, this is true in the strictest literal sense, and it is also true of the symbolism used in the parables of Christ. Rather, fruit-bearing (which as a verbal cannot in any case be identical with biological life but is an activity of it) is the actual figure employed in both the Old and New Testaments (Isa. 5; Matt. 13; Jn 15) to symbolize true spiritual life, because people who are truly alive spiritually produce true spiritual fruit. What’s so weird about that?

    This is helpful, and not as weird as I had initially thought. I largely agree with you here. You say,

    Now you seem to be quibbling over allegedly imprecise terminology in order to completely avoid my point that the parable is not about the life that comes from the seed as much as it’s about the soil. The seed is the word; the soil is the human heart.

    I’m not intentionally trying to avoid your point, I was distracted by the initially oddities I was reading in your comment. I can agree with you here without hurting my position. You continue,

    Jesus made this abundantly clear in his interpretation of the parable (Matt. 13:18-23). And yet nowhere in that interpretation does the soil exhibit “signs of life;” rather there are some cases in which the word seems to do so, by taking root in the soil for a while, but there’s only one case in which it actually survives, thrives, and produces fruit in a person’s heart (which is, once again, represented by the soil, not the seed or the plant).

    My point is this, that the “seed” (word) grows at all is a sign of spiritual life in the soil. In two cases it doesn’t last, so it clearly isn’t persevering (or “true” as you are qualifying) spiritual life, but it is life nonetheless. Again, the only kind of soil that doesn’t facilitate this life to some extent is the soil which can’t be penetrated by the seed at all. I do not believe I have misunderstood this parable as you seem to think I have. I also feel a bit vindicated by what Calvin says of the different types which don’t produce a crop:

    1. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not. – With respect to God, the word is sown in the hearts, but it is far from being true, that the hearts of all receive with meekness what is planted in them, as James (1:21) exhorts us to receive the word. So then the Gospel is always a fruitful seed as to its power, but not as to its produce. (emphasis his)

    2. But he that received the seed thrown into stony places – This class differs from the former; for temporary faith, being a sort of vegetation of the seed, promises at first some fruit; but their hearts are not so properly and thoroughly subdued, as to have the softness necessary for their continued nourishment.

    3. And he who received the seed among thorns – As corn, which otherwise might have been productive, no sooner rises into the stalk than it is choked by thorns and other matters injurious to its growth; so the sinful affections of the flesh prevail over the hearts of men, and overcome faith, and thus destroy the force of the heavenly doctrine, before it has reached maturity.

    What these latter two classes receive is real (i.e. they receive the true gospel) but what it produces is also real even though it is not lasting. That it is real spiritual life (in contrast with your “true” spiritual life) Calvin does not explicitly say, but it seems the case to me nevertheless. Now, whether you agree or not is a different thing, but my formulation (and the FV formulations, even if they differ from mine) are not outside the “pale of orthodoxy”. You say,

    Sure, perhaps we can talk about “reception in some degree,” but not obviously not receptivity to any degree that indicates that the soil (i.e., the human heart) is truly hospitable to the seed (i.e., the word) in most cases. After all, in what sense can soil that prematurely kills off the plant that springs from a seed be said to be “receptive” to that seed? Only the good soil was truly congenial to the seed; all the other examples were actually hostile to it—it just took time for that hostility to become obvious.

    I am, again, mostly in agreement with you. I would point out it isn’t simply the soil that kills off the plant, it’s also outstanding (but not extraordinary) circumstance (scorching sun, choking thorns), I think we can agree on this as well. That you admit we can “perhaps” talk about reception in some degree is enough verification for me that I’m not (and the FV is not) completely off base. You continue,

    The life that comes from the seed in this parable represents the activity of the word of God in a person’s life. In some people, the word will appear to have no impact whatsoever. In others it may seem very active for a while. But only in one group in the Lord’s parable does it ultimately bear fruit.

    Again we are not terribly at odds. I would say that the word doesn’t just seem very active, but is. It is ultimately ineffective activity for those less congenial soils, but in as much as it is able it is really active nonetheless (hence the sprouting). The word is not less powerful in some and more powerful in others (see Calvin at the end of point 1. above), it just doesn’t produce the exact same results in all kinds of soil. But it does produce results in all kinds of soil (well, except for those birds…). You say,

    Thus this is not at all about different types of seed or plants that spring from them, for in each case the seed is the living and powerful word of God. It’s about different types of soil, which has no life inherent in itself, but can only provide the conditions for life, and the only soil that provides those conditions in the parable is the good soil that has been prepared by God, and the fallow ground of the heart has been broken up to receive the seed (Hosea 10:12).

    No, there are three types of soil that provide the conditions for life but only one type that provides the conditions for the yielding of crops. Now, if you want to define “life” narrowly as “only that which produces crops” (or fruit) then that’s your prerogative; but don’t try and burst the legitimate bubble of those who think it can be defined more broadly.

    As an aside, I did take a hermeneutics course in college! I remember using “Let the Reader Understand” by McCartney and Clayon and “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth” by Gordon Fee; there was one or two other books, but I don’t recall what they were off the top of my head. I also took a year of Greek (and look forward to getting back into it, along with Hebrew, in seminary). I was a biblical studies and philosophy double major until my adviser told me not to major in biblical studies if I planned to go to seminary.

  30. Jeff Cagle said,

    February 2, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Jared,

    It strikes me that the core of the argument centers around whether the soils parable and the vine-and-branches metaphor should be interpreted as

    “Some have apparent life without genuine life”

    or

    “Some have genuine but sub-standard, non-persevering life.”

    I think we can agree that the difference between non-FV and FV theologies of apostasy turns on this question. So now we have two questions:

    (1) Is this question a matter of legitimate difference of opinion (as opposed to a matter of error)?
    (2) Is there legitimate historical precedent within the Reformed tradition for each?

    Clearly, you have argued Yes to each.

    I argue No to the first, and I Doubt It to the second. My primary reason for the No to (1) is this: in my view, while we may speak of what we see as “real”, the ultimate judge of reality is what God sees. To say that the growth of the apostate is “genuine” but “non-persevering” is to say that God sees the growth as genuine. But in fact, the wheat-and-tares parable indicates that God sees the apostate as false the entire time, though man might see it differently. And, it seems to me that pursuing the line of thought that the apostate’s growth is genuine appears to lead to incoherence, which is reflected in the highly bifurcated language needed to express FV theology (while also attempting to remain in-bounds wrt the Confession).

    Therefore, I conclude that the FV theology of apostasy is not a legitimate biblical option — not just a matter of disagreement, like the nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, but positively falsified by Scripture.

    What argument would you offer me to move me away from my position, given that I consider the FV proponents as brothers in Christ and would like to exonerate them if I could?

    (The reason I say I Doubt It to the second is that I don’t have a comprehensive view of some Reformed theologians appealed to by the FV such as Rollock. I do believe that Luther’s theology of apostasy resembles the FV view.)

    Jeff Cagle

  31. Ron Henzel said,

    February 2, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Jared,

    You wrote:

    My point is this, that the “seed” (word) grows at all is a sign of spiritual life in the soil. [...]

    And, of course, since the text does not actually say that, it is necessary for you to import that idea into it. That’s what this all boils down to: you began by citing this passage as a kind of proof-text for your belief that when signs of biological life are used in a parable they “clearly” represent spiritual life. However, as I have repeatedly pointed out, and which you still do not quite seem to see the ramifications of, is that the “life” in this illustration is not in the person (i.e., the soil), but God’s word (i.e., the seed). Nevertheless, you stubbornly cling to your interpretation, thinking that by simply saying it is so (i.e., that the growth of the seed requires the soil to somehow be “alive”) it therefore is. But the text is clear: it is the word that is alive and efficacious; the “life” of the person who receives the word is not even under direct consideration in the parable. The issue of the life of the recipient of the word must be inferred based on Scriptural considerations outside this passage, which is exactly what both you and I are doing here.

    You say that the fact that the soil produces life is intended to demonstrate that the soil itself is somehow alive, and therefore all but one type of person illustrated by the types of soil is somehow spiritually alive. You do not have anything in the passage that says this, so you go outside the passage to your prior theological conclusions, which include the notion that it is possible for someone to have real spiritual life and lose it.

    I say the fact that the soil produces life is intended to demonstrate that God is sovereign, His word accomplishes what He ordains, that sometimes He ordains it to produce no response whatsoever, other times it produces activity in people’s lives that falls short of real spiritual life, and still other times it produces spiritual life that demonstrates its reality by ultimately producing fruit. Like you, in lieu of Christ explicitly saying these things in His interpretation of the parable, I have to do go outside of it to my prior theological conclusions, one of which is that it is not possible for someone who has real spiritual life to lose it.

    Either way, neither of us can use this parable as a proof-text for our positions, even though we both simultaneously claim it is consistent with them. And, it should be pointed out that Reformed theology thus successfully meets your challenge of accounting “for those seeds which grow but don’t make it to the harvest somehow.” We account for it by showing that there is nothing in the parable inconsistent with the Reformed tenet that those who permanently fall away never had actual spiritual life to begin with.

    Still, you say you “feel a bit vindicated by what Calvin says of the different types which don’t produce a crop,” and yet the manner in which you lift particular comments by Calvin from their context while ignoring those comments which loudly contradict your position shows that you are essentially doing the same thing with your interpretation of Calvin as you have done with the parable, or perhaps worse. You go so far as to admit that Calvin does not actually say that the people other than those represented by the good soil have real spiritual life, but why do you omit his rather pointed comments on Matthew 13:21?:

    Such persons, according to Matthew and Mark, are temporary, not only because, having professed, for a time, that they are the disciples of Christ, they afterwards fall away through temptation, but because they imagine that they have true faith. According to Luke, Christ says that they believe for a time; because that honor which they render to the Gospel resembles faith. At the same time we ought to learn, that they are not truly regenerated by the incorruptible seed, which never fadeth, as Peter tells us, (1 Peter 1:4;) for he says that these words of Isaiah, The word of God endureth for ever, (Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25,) are fulfilled in the hearts of believers, in whom the truth of God, once fixed, never passes away, but retains its vigor to the end. Still, those persons who take delight in the word of God, and cherish some reverence for it, do in some manner believe; for they are widely different from unbelievers, who give no credit to God when he speaks, or who reject his word. In a word, let us learn that none are partakers of true faith, except those who are sealed with the Spirit of adoption, and who sincerely call on God as their Father; and as that Spirit is never extinguished, so it is impossible that the faith, which he has once engraven on the hearts of the godly, shall pass away or be destroyed.

    [The italics is in the original. The bold is supplied by me. I hope I did it right.]

    Calvin is abundantly clear: people who have temporary faith, as illustrated by the soil that does not welcome the seed to the point that it produces fruit, only imagine that they have true faith. They are not truly regenerated. It is impossible that the faith of true believers should ever be extinguished. This is what Calvin says in the midst of interpreting this parable, just so no one misunderstands him. How long must those of us who clearly perceive that the FV is totally at odds with historic Reformed theology keep on confronting FV defenders with their misuse of classic Reformed texts?

    You wrote:

    Again we are not terribly at odds. I would say that the word doesn’t just seem very active, but is. It is ultimately ineffective activity for those less congenial soils, but in as much as it is able it is really active nonetheless (hence the sprouting). The word is not less powerful in some and more powerful in others (see Calvin at the end of point 1. above), it just doesn’t produce the exact same results in all kinds of soil. But it does produce results in all kinds of soil (well, except for those birds…).

    I don’t think we are “terribly at odds” on this point. Again, you seem to be quibbling about imprecise language (in this case over my use of the word “seem,” oddly enough). Yes, it is the word that is active in this illustration; the soil is entirely passive. That is actually my point, and Calvin supports it.

    You wrote:

    No, there are three types of soil that provide the conditions for life but only one type that provides the conditions for the yielding of crops.

    How does the hardened soil along the roadside provide “the conditions for life?” The seed could never even penetrate it so as to take root! It sat along the roadside until the birds came along and snatched it away. Again, this simply demonstrates that the theology you try to read into the passage is not only inconsistent with Reformed theology, but inconsistent with the passage itself. As far as whether the other two non-fruit-bearing soils can be said to have had the conditions for life, they obviously did not have the conditions for fruit-bearing, which, as I have repeatedly stressed, is the actual biblical symbol for real spiritual life.

    Now, if you want to define “life” narrowly as “only that which produces crops” (or fruit) then that’s your prerogative; but don’t try and burst the legitimate bubble of those who think it can be defined more broadly.

    You’re not tracking with me here, and I can see how part of this is a struggle over whether we can expect any illustration or parable to “walk on all fours,” as it were. If you’ve read McCartney and Clayton or Fee and Stuart closely, I’m sure you would have come across this principle. We can’t make every single point in figurative discourse correspond precisely to something in the real world. My point was that in the parable of the sower it is technically not the soil that is “alive” but the seed. The reason I made this point was to show that to import the question of which soil is “spiritually alive” is therefore problematic, because the point of the parable was not to depict spiritual life versus spiritual non-life, but rather to distinguish between the true reception of God’s word and the false reception of it.

    Now, obviously, those who truly receive God’s word are spiritually alive and those who do not are spiritually dead, even though this must be demonstrated from other passages. You have tried to make a case that if God’s word (the seed) shows any signs of “life” or “growth” in a person’s life, it therefore means that the person (the soil) is spiritually alive. But what “signs of life” are we talking about? One person has an intense emotional response to the word (“receives the word immediately with joy,” Matt. 13:20), but when actually living by the word proves not-so-joyful (because of persecution, v. 21), he folds. Another person has some kind of response—we’re not told exactly what, although it apparently looks promising at that time—but allows worry and wealth to choke the word out of his life (v. 22). So in the first case you have someone who uses God as a kind of cosmic joystick, and another who is actually an unrepentant idolater, and you’re really going to crassly debase the biblical concept of spiritual life by applying it to these examples?

    I’m glad you took hermeneutics in college. I believe it is a life-long discipline. Except for Fee and Stuart’s idiosyncratic definition of “hermeneutics” (virtually identifying it with application instead of the rules of interpretation) and perhaps a few other points, I think both books are worth re-reading. I have several other books on the subject but don’t have time review them here. Perhaps someone else can recommend a volume.

  32. February 2, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    [...] 3.  C. Michael Patton shares why Arminianism does not work.  Green Baggins posts on Election in the New Testament. [...]

  33. Reed Here said,

    February 2, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    No. 22, Jared:

    You’ve got lots of folks interacting with you, so do not feel the need to respond online to my comment here. My goal is not to start another tangent of discussion for you. Rather my goal is to simply note what I believe is a critical error in DW’s reading on the WCF. My hope is that you will reconsider your reliance on at least this small part of the FV; especially from what most of us agree is a moderate source. Admittedly this is a small area. Yet my hope is that you will see that this disparity reflects a systemic weakness in the FV.

    FWIW, I offer it to you here. In response to Vern’s FV101 comment, you observed:

    Doug says, “Confidence that you are decretally elect is the conclusion, not the premise. And this is what Westminster teaches.” (WCF 18.3) Because decretal election is the basis of assurance (WCF 18.2) it can only be attained by those who “truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before Him” (WCF 18.1).”

    This is wrong on a number of levels, more or less significant.

    First, decretal election in/and of itself is not the basis of assurance. Rather, the basis is the “divine truth of the promises of salvation.” A better composite term for this, comprising the whole of these promises would be the Covenant of Grace. To be sure, decretal election is a critical component of this, probably marking the key connection between the CoG and the Covenant of Redemption. Yet to load the whole function of “basis of assurance” onto election is to overload and demand of this principle a functionality it has not been given by God. It is of such slightdefects that much larger errors grow.

    Second,WCF 18.3 observes that the Spirit’s infallible testimony of assurance (WCF 18.2) is made ours through the “right use of the ordinary means of grace.” Clearly, in the Westminster Standards, these means of grace can only be understood as the ministry of the Word, sacraments and prayer. It is these means that serve as the receptive cause of assurance, the “by faith” cause.

    Third, and this is where I believe DW’s position is most flawed, the elements you list from WCF 18.1, the “truly believ[ing] in the Lord Jesus, and lov[ing] him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him,” are decidedly NOT the “only” means of “attaining” this infallible assurance. Quite the contrary, these are not means of receiving assurance at all. This function is exclusively reserved for the means of grace (as defined previously).

    The: 1) truly believing, 2) loving in sincerity, and 3) endeavoring to walk in good conscious, rather than being a receptive cause are rather nothing more than the resulting fruit of one truly united (inwardly, vitally) to Christ. With reference to assurance, WCF 18.1 notes the necessity of the presence of these fruits from two perspectives:

    1) Their absolute absence will note that an individual is not united (vitally) to Christ, or
    2) Their relative absence will note that a united (vitally) individual is living in some disobedience, “quenching the Spirit,” and under God’s Fatherly discipline.

    You (and DW) most likely will agree with point no. 1. I urge you to take caution before jumping on point no. 2 as evidence to support DW’s take.

    It is at this point that the FV (including DW) is in error in importing Shepherdism into their scheme. Shepherdism assigns (at the very least) a receptive causal function to the fruits of the Spirit, in particular the outward “good works” through which the inward fruits evidence themselves. This is the fatal flaw of Shepherdism. It assigns the receptive causal function, assigned exclusively to the means of grace, to our good works.

    WCF 18.1 reference to these three fruits is not to note that assurance is attained by our efforts in and through them. It references these to note that their absolute/relative absence will effect our experience of assurance. The effect is not direct, as in that we cannot obtain the assurance via our efforts to pursue these fruits. Rather the effect is indirect. The degree to which I do not exhibit these three is intended to drive me expressly back to my need for Christ, and it does so by faith in that I am directed to the use of the means of grace.

    The effective cause of assurance is the testimony of the Spirit. The receptive cause is my by faith use of the means of grace. This is where, and only where, my “attaining” efforts are to be placed. These three fruits in WCF 18.1 are nothing more than the evidence that supports my experience of assurance.

    Assurance is not rooted in my reliance on these evidences. They do not in any manner function in the “attainment” of assurance. They only support, in that the encourage me, to rely exclusively on the testimony of the Spirit received by faith via the means of grace.

    Here is a serious error of the FV, promulgated by even a moderate FV proponent. It is of such defects that the much worse and egregious errors of the FV flow. This is why Jared, with all sincerity and seriousness, we FV critics pray that both FV proponents, and non-proponents-but-sympathetic listeners as yourself , would be shown what we see.

    The FV is yet another scheme of Christ+me salvation. I fully acknowledge that is not anyone’s professed intention. It is what the FV amounts to nevertheless.

  34. jared said,

    February 2, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Jeff Cagle (#30),

    I agree with your assessment of the difference between the FV and non-FV positions on apostasy. I also think part of the problem is some equivocation going on with “genuine life” in the initial question. It refers exclusively to decretal elect salvation in the first and to something less ontologically specific but no less real (or “genuine”) in the second. This creates a kind of semantic barrier for coherent discussion. When the FVer says the apostate has “genuine life” he is saying that the apostate has the living and active word in him and that it is producing growth. Even though that growth is occurring in rocky or thorny “soil” and ultimately will produce no crop, it is “genuine” (or real) growth nonetheless. On the other hand, the non-FV hears “genuine life” and thinks only of the last type of soil which produces growth and a crop. So when the FV says the apostate loses “genuine life” the non-FV hears that the apostate loses something they believe cannot be lost. The FV, however, agrees with the non-FV that the “genuine life” which the decretally elect posses (i.e. the genuine life which springs forth in the good soil) cannot be lost. The two groups, thus, begin talking past one another because the FV’s conception of “genuine life” is not limited to only that good soil which also produces a crop. To rephrase your question, then, we need to determine whether or not Scripture allows for such a broad understanding of “genuine life” like the FV is presenting.

    This is partly why I argue “Yes” to (1). You say,

    My primary reason for the No to (1) is this: in my view, while we may speak of what we see as “real”, the ultimate judge of reality is what God sees. To say that the growth of the apostate is “genuine” but “non-persevering” is to say that God sees the growth as genuine. But in fact, the wheat-and-tares parable indicates that God sees the apostate as false the entire time, though man might see it differently.

    The parable of the weeds (right after the parable of the sower) fits well with what you’re saying here, and I agree. God never sees the apostate as anything else (i.e. they are always reprobate). This does not imply or necessitate that God doesn’t see their growth as “genuine” as it is more broadly defined, but I agree that it certainly can’t be “genuine” as it is more narrowly defined. I think we can agree that the “seed” can only produce one kind of crop, yes? You don’t plant a bag full of corn and expect crops other than corn to grow, right? So the word (“seed”) which is planted in the rocky and thorny heart (“soil”) can only produce one kind of plant. The FV is arguing that the plant which grows in the rocky and thorny soils is the same kind of plant which grows in the good soil. We can take the analogy even further by pointing out that the Farmer cares only for the seed planted in the good soil. So we can say it’s the soil which makes the difference as long as we understand it’s the Farmer who has prepared that soil. Salvation (maturity unto the harvest) is all a result of the Farmer’s work. He prepares the soil, He plants the seed and He sees to it that it produces the crop. But it’s the same seed and the same plant growing from the rocky and thorny soils. To describe it otherwise seems an insult to the seed rather than a denigration of the soil; it’s like saying the seed isn’t really doing anything there even though it (clearly) is. Between the FV and the non-FV I see a difference of opinion rather than an expression of error on the issue of apostasy: the FV wants to broaden “genuine life” and the non-FV wants to maintain “apparent life”. I think Scripture could go either way.

    As for (2), I simply don’t know. I don’t have a reason to doubt it because the FV position seems legitimate to me from Scripture and Calvin appears to lend some credibility at least to the FV position on apostasy. And, tangentially, I’ve always thought it odd that Luther’s views seem to end up “outside” of Reformed theology. Maybe not odd, but ironic.

    Ron Henzel (#31),

    You say,

    Calvin is abundantly clear: people who have temporary faith, as illustrated by the soil that does not welcome the seed to the point that it produces fruit, only imagine that they have true faith. They are not truly regenerated. It is impossible that the faith of true believers should ever be extinguished. This is what Calvin says in the midst of interpreting this parable, just so no one misunderstands him.

    I completely agree with this, it doesn’t affect my (or the FV’s) position. You say,

    How does the hardened soil along the roadside provide “the conditions for life?” The seed could never even penetrate it so as to take root! It sat along the roadside until the birds came along and snatched it away. Again, this simply demonstrates that the theology you try to read into the passage is not only inconsistent with Reformed theology, but inconsistent with the passage itself. As far as whether the other two non-fruit-bearing soils can be said to have had the conditions for life, they obviously did not have the conditions for fruit-bearing, which, as I have repeatedly stressed, is the actual biblical symbol for real spiritual life.

    There are actually four kinds of soil mentioned in the parable, one of which is (more or less) irrelevant to the discussion. The hard soil doesn’t provide the conditions for life and I never said it did. You say,

    My point was that in the parable of the sower it is technically not the soil that is “alive” but the seed. The reason I made this point was to show that to import the question of which soil is “spiritually alive” is therefore problematic, because the point of the parable was not to depict spiritual life versus spiritual non-life, but rather to distinguish between the true reception of God’s word and the false reception of it.

    I can concede that it is not the soil which is alive, it doesn’t affect my position. If you notice in your first quote of me in this comment, I am pointing out that the seed growing at all is indicative of spiritual life in the soil, not that the soil itself is alive. Sorry I wasn’t making that clear and thanks for helping me make it more clear. The soil is completely passive, it doesn’t get to pick what kind it is nor can it change itself into some other kind.

    My point, as I am working it out here with you and Jeff, is that the seed cannot be any less spiritual life regardless of which soil it resides in. The seed, by its very nature, is spiritual life. So if the seed is present in soil at all then life is, defacto, present in the soil regardless of what kind of soil it is. However, this seed bears fruit only in the good soil (and it always bears fruit in the good soil), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t spiritual life in the other kinds of soil; the nature of the seed doesn’t change. Also, I agree with you that the goal of the parable is to contrast what the seed accomplishes in the various types of soil. The issue of spiritual life versus spiritual “non-life” is a side issue, which is why (as I am saying above to Jeff) I think this is a matter of opinion rather than explicit or blatant error. You continue,

    Now, obviously, those who truly receive God’s word are spiritually alive and those who do not are spiritually dead, even though this must be demonstrated from other passages. You have tried to make a case that if God’s word (the seed) shows any signs of “life” or “growth” in a person’s life, it therefore means that the person (the soil) is spiritually alive. But what “signs of life” are we talking about?

    I’d say there are those who are spiritually dead (the non-elect non-covenant member; the hard soil), those who are temporarily spiritually alive (the non-elect covenant member; the rocky and thorny soils) and those who are spiritually alive (the elect covenant member; the good soil). As for “signs of life” I’ve already said that to me sprouting and growing (maybe even producing leaves) are pretty explicit indications of life. You continue,

    So in the first case you have someone who uses God as a kind of cosmic joystick, and another who is actually an unrepentant idolater, and you’re really going to crassly debase the biblical concept of spiritual life by applying it to these examples?

    I’d rather say (more accurately I think) that in both cases the seed grows (i.e. it is active), it just doesn’t grow into maturity. If the seed is spiritual life (which I think is fair to say) then I don’t see how I am crassly debasing it by applying it in the same way Scripture is applying it (at least in this case). You conclude,

    I’m glad you took hermeneutics in college. I believe it is a life-long discipline. Except for Fee and Stuart’s idiosyncratic definition of “hermeneutics” (virtually identifying it with application instead of the rules of interpretation) and perhaps a few other points, I think both books are worth re-reading. I have several other books on the subject but don’t have time review them here. Perhaps someone else can recommend a volume.

    I also took a hermeneutics course at an unaccredited (at the time) “seminary” before going to Covenant College and in that course we used Milton Terry’s “Biblical Hermeneutics”, which I thought was pretty good. Studying philosophy also involves a lot of similar hermeneutical concepts; cognitive linguistics/epistemology is my area of focus (and metaphor in particular). I’m not saying this to “prove” how smart or knowledgeable I am, rather I just want you to know me a bit better.

    Reed (#33),

    I don’t mind tackling multiple “opponents” but I’m going to take a little break before interacting with you. I need time to mull.

  35. Reed Here said,

    February 2, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    No. 34, Jared: not a problem. If it will help, feel free to put this away for some other time, and/or even contact me off list. reed dot here at gmail dot com

  36. David Gadbois said,

    February 2, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    I take it from reading this thread, so far, that no one can really raise an *exegetical* challenge to the thesis Bob established in his article – that the NT only applies ‘elect’ and ‘election’ language to the invisible church. So where is FV getting their ideas from?

    Don’t underestimate the influence of postmillenialism on the FV position regarding the ‘election’ of the visible church (including reprobates). They import all of the glories of Old Testament Israel into the New Covenant church, so they conclude that we, as the visible church today, are ‘elect’ just like national/ethnic Israel was. But the New Covenant church doesn’t have the boundary markers of Old Testament Israel, nor does it have the outward glories. Israel was a unique theocratic nation under direct divine guidance through inspired prophets, judges, and kings. Land, earthly blessings, special providential preservation, the Mosaic covenant, the priesthood and and OT cult were bound up with Israel. All we have in the New Covenant is Word and Sacrament. That’s it. Baptism and our common confession are our only boundary markers. So while there is good sense to speak of being ‘elect’ or ‘chosen’ to belong to national/ethnic Israel under the Old Covenant, it doesn’t make sense to speak that way concerning the New Covenant church. In what sense is the reprobate in the visible church ‘elect’? ‘Elect’ unto hearing nice sermons, attending church potlucks, and eating and drinking damnation to themselves?

  37. Ron Henzel said,

    February 2, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    Jared,

    I wrote:

    Calvin is abundantly clear: people who have temporary faith, as illustrated by the soil that does not welcome the seed to the point that it produces fruit, only imagine that they have true faith. They are not truly regenerated. It is impossible that the faith of true believers should ever be extinguished. This is what Calvin says in the midst of interpreting this parable, just so no one misunderstands him.

    In response to this, you wrote:

    I completely agree with this, it doesn’t affect my (or the FV’s) position.

    This is a crucial point. Both for that reason and for lack of time, I will focus on it exclusively. Frankly, I believe this simply is not true! The only charitable representation I can put on this statement of yours is that you really have not read much FV literature. You need to read Rich Lusk’s article on baptismal efficacy, hosted on Mark Horne’s site, in which he declares, “Baptism into membership in the community of Christ therefore also confers the arrabon [ἀρραβὼν, Eph. 1:14] of the Spirit, and in this sense too is a ‘regenerating’ ordinance.” Steve Wilkins has made even stronger statements along these lines. To say that Calvin’s denial that those who fall away in the parable of the sower were ever truly regenerate does not affect the FV’s position (regardless of how it may affect yours) is to simply flat-out contradict many very public FV statements that baptized people who fall away were truly regenerate.

  38. rfwhite said,

    February 2, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    36 David Gadbois, can we add to your comments that it is far from established or commonly agreed that the covenantally elect of the OT experienced “temporary salvation” as defined by the FV and applied to the covenantally elect of the NT?

  39. Vern Crisler said,

    February 2, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    jared said: “Mark is right, we don’t get to “peer into the eternal decrees of God”, that isn’t how we know we are elect. We know we are elect because we see the results of it and God’s Spirit testifies with our spirit then we can rightfully conclude that we are elect (i.e. then we can have assurance).”

    I respond: The problem with FVism is that it turns things into an all or nothing affair. Assurance is NOT looking into the decree; no it’s x, y & z. Let’s NOT listen to systematic theology but listen to the way the Bible speaks. Let’s NOT teach the bad old TULIP stuff, but let’s tell everyone about covenantal objectivity. So says FVism.

    This dualism is ultimately what happens when theologians unwittingly try to look at election and covenant through the lens of Kantianism.

    But as Reed pointed out, the Reformed doctrine of assurance is full-orbed and can’t be reduced to simplistic dichotomies.

    Vern

  40. David Gadbois said,

    February 2, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    #38 – yes, Dr. White, I agree. Another part of the explanation for FV’s insistence that there is an ‘election’ of even the reprobate in the visible church is the fact that they posit a parallel ordo salutis where the reprobate members of the covenant receive a set of ill-defined quasi-salvific benefits that mirror the ordo salutis of the elect. Wilkins and Leithart, notably, are quite specific on this point. Just as the non-elect within the covenant receive a sort of faith, conversion, regeneration (‘…baptized into the Regeneration’), justification (in a sense, of course), etc., so they must also be ‘elect’ in a sense, in order to maintain symmetry with the ordo of the decretally-elect.

  41. February 3, 2009 at 12:26 am

    David, RE #40,

    Indeed. And the only way to build that flimsy house of cards is to conflate the conditional national covenants of the OT with the unconditional Covenant of Grace, positing a mythical “objective covenant”.

    On that score, I’m rereading Dr. White’s excellent essay “Covenant and Apostasy” in Auburn Avenue Theology Pros & Cons. It’s been a few years since I last read it. Dr. White insightfully nails the contradictions and shortcomings in Federal Vision’s treatment of covenants.

  42. Jeff Cagle said,

    February 3, 2009 at 8:43 am

    Jared (#34):

    I also think part of the problem is some equivocation going on with “genuine life” in the initial question. It refers exclusively to decretal elect salvation in the first and to something less ontologically specific but no less real (or “genuine”) in the second. This creates a kind of semantic barrier for coherent discussion. When the FVer says the apostate has “genuine life” he is saying that the apostate has the living and active word in him and that it is producing growth. Even though that growth is occurring in rocky or thorny “soil” and ultimately will produce no crop, it is “genuine” (or real) growth nonetheless.

    Yes, the language problem requires care. I would not argue that “because FV language is different from mine, it’s wrong.”

    But I would argue that Scripture’s use of words is circumscribally normative: that if we use word ‘X’ to mean x, y, or z, our usage must be consistent with Scriptural usage of ‘X’ also.

    Here, FV-’genuine growth’ means being sealed with the Holy Spirit, being adopted as sons, etc. … all covenantally, of course.

    But the wheat-and-tares parable does not admit this kind of usage. Nor does John:

    “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”

    John’s treatment of Judas is similar: in reality (on John’s account), he was never a genuine disciple of Jesus.

    In short: since we agree that God sees apostates always as apostates, it seems that we must ascribe reality to God’s point of view and apparency to what we see.

    Jeff Cagle

  43. Jeff Cagle said,

    February 3, 2009 at 8:46 am

    David G:

    In what sense is the reprobate in the visible church ‘elect’?

    Only in the normative sense: the church member is a visible member of the covenant, therefore (a) he ought to produce fruit in keeping with his profession, and (b) ought to be treated as a Christian (up to the point of being excommunicated).

    Existentially, at the level of his motives and heart, he is not elect.

    Jeff Cagle

  44. February 3, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Jeff,

    Only in the normative sense

    I don’t see anywhere in the NT where the reprobate in the visible church are described as “elect”. My post surveyed the NT to show explicitly that the term “elect” is only ever applied to those chosen before the foundation of the world and never to reprobates.

    I believe that I understand what you are trying to say generally. Perhaps more precise language would be that the reprobate in the visible church partake in the Covenant of Grace broadly considered in accordance with WLC Q.63:

    Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
    A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him

    The reprobate receive the “offers of grace by Christ” but never the actual saving graces because they never become part of the “whosoever believes” group of the elect. Thus, they are never “elect” in accordance with the Biblical use of the term under the New Covenant which is mirrored in the Standards. Rather, they fall into the realm of Jesus’ warning in Mt 7:23. Only the elect partake in the Covenant of Grace narrowly considered, as in WLC Q.65 and 66:

    Q. 65. What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?
    A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.
    Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
    A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.

    I’m just trying to be consistent in the use of terms amongst ourselves because the FVer play fast and loose with them as a matter of course. According to the Scriptures, e.g., as illustrated in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, the reprobate were never elect under the New Covenant.

  45. rfwhite said,

    February 3, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    40 David G, wouldn’t you also agree that the questions about election in particular and salvation in general as prompted by the phenomenon of apostasy do arise in the Bible itself?

  46. Jeff Cagle said,

    February 4, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Hi Bob (#44):

    I don’t see anywhere in the NT where the reprobate in the visible church are described as “elect”.

    Right, I agree. Never is someone who is certainly reprobate labeled as ‘elect’ in the Scripture (save in John 6.70 — but Jesus here is using “εξελεξαμην” in a pedestrian rather than theological sense).

    So we agree that NECMs are not truly elect.

    But in the NT, there are groups labeled as “elect” (and “saints”, etc.) which are unlikely to be ‘head-for-head’ elect.

    Ephesians 1 is one such instance. I won’t blockquote it since it’s so well-known. While Wilkins went way overboard in his reading of Eph 1, his exegetical observation is correct: the entire church in Ephesus is called “saints” and “chosen of God from the foundation of the world.”

    We have several ways of reading this:

    (1) (The Wilkins path) Every single member of the Ephesian church was elect, OR
    (2) (Unlikely) Paul knew the elect and was speaking only to them, OR
    (3) Paul did not know who the elect were and was speaking to the whole church on the assumption that they all ought to have been elect, in keeping with their profession.

    Option (3) is commonly called the “judgment of charity” option, but I prefer to think of it as the “normative perspective on the Church”: we cannot identify the elect with certainty, but belonging to the Church is evidence of election.

    So two notes:

    First, I am not saying that any of the reprobate are elect. If we have ground to believe someone is reprobate, we are obligated to exclude him from the fellowship of the saints!

    Second, the normative perspective is not absolute knowledge. It is one strand of our knowledge concerning which people are genuine believers and who belong in the Church (the other strands being the testimony of their own hearts — 1 John 3.21-24 — and their profession and actions in keeping with their profession — 1 John 2). If the only evidence of election is church membership, when other evidences ought to be present — then we have grounds to doubt election.

    But if, on the other hand, someone unable to produce other evidences (whether child or mentally disabled) dies as a member of the Church, then that line of evidence is sufficient to say to the family, “We believe he was elect.”

    God alone has absolute knowledge of who belongs to him; we approximate that knowledge with various lines of evidence.

    So while we could never knowingly label a reprobate as “elect”, we should treat one another in the Church as elect, with the understanding that our knowledge is not absolute.

    Jeff Cagle

  47. David Weiner said,

    February 4, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Jeff, re: #46,

    Just a quicky. Why is option (4) not also a valid option?

    (4) Paul may or may not have known who the elect were but he was speaking to them and only to them, should any of them happen to attend that church.

    Ephesians 1:1 does not, as you state it does, address the entire group as ‘elect.’ That idea has to be read into the text, no?

  48. February 4, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    Jeff, RE #46,

    I think I’m with Dave W. on this. Paul did not address his letter to the church in general at Ephesus, but to the elect specifically by the specific description:

    To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus

    Certainly the reprobate in Ephesus were not faithful in Christ. The following verses further nail down the specificity of the addressees. This is just as Peter did in his 1st letter:

    To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood

    There were certainly times when Paul and Peter (et al) addressed the visible church in general using the judgment of charity, something federal visionists generally reject. I think that we agree on that point. I believe, however, that these two letters are not among them. I base that opinion on the specific description of the addressees at the openings.

  49. rfwhite said,

    February 4, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    With regard to the parable of the sower and the soils, the parallels to the story of the exodus generation are remarkable and illustrative, though I’m not ready to say they are intended by the human authors.

    It was said of Israel’s exodus generation that to them God’s gospel of rest in earthly Canaan was preached. It is said that “they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses” (Exod 14:31). Nevertheless, their faith proved to be temporary. The gospel of rest preached to them did not profit them (Heb 4:2). The faith of “most of them” (1 Cor 10:5) failed when temptation and trial came in the wilderness. Despite the faith they confessed in the beginning at the exodus, they proved in the end to have an evil, unbelieving heart when they fell away from the living God in the wilderness.

    The exodus generation that died in the wilderness mimics the rocky soil of Jesus’ parable: Matt 13.20-21 “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.”

    It is equally striking to notice that of apostates Scripture says concerning them: ‘You will listen carefully yet will never understand, you will look closely yet will never comprehend. (Matt 13.13-14). Notice the emphatic negation (οὐ μὴ; never, by no means). They knew, but their knowledge was according to the flesh (cf. 1 Cor 1:26), not the Spirit (1 Cor 2:6-16; Matt 13:11). As Jesus says, they “believed,” but their faith, as Jesus also says, was only “for a while” (Luke 8:13). To them it was not given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.

    The point I wish to underscore is that apostates see, hear, know, and believe, but apostates do so without the blessing of God — it is not given to them to see, hear, know, and believe “lest they turn and be forgiven.” Apostates are not blessed with forgiveness though he is said to “believe for a while.” No temporary forgiveness for those who believe for a while. Only the elect are said to be “blessed” to see, hear, know, and believe “such that they turn and are forgiven.”

  50. Jeff Cagle said,

    February 4, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    Hi David! Long time.

    First, you and Bob are correct that “To the saints in Ephesus…” could be read as

    “To everyone who is a saint in the eyes of God”

    OR

    “To everyone who appears to me to be a saint.”

    So yes, I did make an interpretive choice in my reading. (So did you ;) )

    The basis for my choice is three-fold.

    First, most basically, the actual way in which the letter was delivered makes the point moot. Regardless of the option we take above, it is unquestionable that the letter was received by the Church in Ephesus and read aloud to the whole Church. The words then applied only to the truly elect — but all heard it.

    So whether we take my reading or yours, the effect is the same: he’s broadcasting to a group of people, but his words “stick” only with those to whom it truly applies.

    Second, Paul in his greetings alternates between addressing entire churches (1, 2 Thess., Gal.) and “The saints in X” (Eph, Phil, Col) and even combining the two (1 Cor 1.2: “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”). It is possible that Paul is trying to make a subtle distinction here, but it seems more likely that Paul is using these phrases synonymously.

    At least, that makes my reading a live option.

    Third, when Paul begins to give commands in ch. 4 – 6, he speaks to the visible expressions of faith that are required of every church member. That is, every member of the Church in Ephesus would have been obligated to keep Paul’s commands; therefore it follows that every member of the Church in Ephesus was being spoken to.

    But it does not follow that every member is elect *as seen by God*, but only *as seen by Paul.* This is the key point where I part company with Mr. Wilkins.

    Put a different way:

    (3) and (4) are not different options; they are the same option viewed from two different points of view.

    In (3), Paul speaks to the whole church without specific knowledge of election, knowing that what he says applies only to the truly elect, but making a non-absolute assumption that his readers are elect. This is election seen from the human point of view.

    In (4), Paul writes to the elect within the Church, which assumes that we know who they are. This is election seen from God’s point of view. But because Paul does not actually see from God’s point of view, he writes the letter to be read to the whole church. (Or group of churches, if you take the encyclical view of Ephesians).

    (It’s the same with “to the elect lady” in 2 John. Assuming that John means a person and not an entire Church — do you want to call an entire Church ‘elect’? — then John is making a judgment of charity about the lady.)

    Jeff Cagle

  51. rfwhite said,

    February 4, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    50 Jeff, if I may butt in … on your first point, you add a third set of eyes to the ones you identify originally (God’s and Paul’s), namely, the eyes of all the hearers of the letter. So the letter’s recipients, as you lay it out, are “the saints” in the eyes of God, or in the eyes of Paul, or in the eyes of the hearers.

    Then you say, Paul is “broadcasting to a group of people, but his words ‘stick’ only with those to whom it truly applies.” I think David/Bob want to urge that it doesn’t matter who hears Paul’s letter; it matters whom Paul is addressing: he speaks to his addressees by their class (classification) not by their individual name. That distinction does matter.

  52. rfwhite said,

    February 4, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    50 Jeff, on your second and third points, I think David and Bob would respond in a manner similar to the way I suggested they would respond to your first. Addressing recipients in terms of their class (classification; “the church … sanctified”; “of faith”) is not the same as addressing every member individually.

  53. Lauren Kuo said,

    February 4, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    The Joint Statement on the Federal Vision states that the visible church is the true church. How can the “true” church contain both believers and nonbelievers and still remain a true church? How can a person who speaks the truth and at the same time speaks lies be considered a truthful honest person? The only way the FV gets around this conundrum is to create this special class of people that have “temporary salvation” or NECM’s. As Bob has clearly pointed out in this post, there “ain’t no such thing” as an NECM. This is purely an FV fabrication.

    In John 18:35-36 Pilate remarks to Jesus, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you to me. What have you done?”
    Jesus answers, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

    In other words, Jesus says that His kingdom is not an earthly visible kingdom.
    Since the kingdom of God is not a visble kingdom but an invisible kingdom, how then can the Federal Vision claim that the visible church is the true church? It was the “visible” kingdom – the Jewish nation of Israel – that actually rejected Jesus and delivered Him to be crucified. If the “true” kingdom of God were an earthly visible kingdom, then Jesus says the members of His kingdom would fight for Him – not reject Him. The visible church is made up of members who receive Christ and members who reject Christ – elect and non-elect. How then can the visible church be the true church?

    On another note, a much earlier comment stated that one’s assurance “comes from knowledge given to them via the Holy Spirit’s testimony with their own spirit and continued faithfulness.” Aren’t we adding works of the flesh (continued faithfulness) to our assurance of salvation? Isn’t the sole work of Christ the only rock solid basis for assurance? Isaiah describes our righteousness or what the FV calls “covenant faithfulness” as “filthy rags”. Paul in Philippians describes all his “covenant faithfulness” as “dung”. So how do our “filthy rags” and “dung” give us any assurance of salvation?

  54. February 5, 2009 at 9:06 am

    Dr. White, RE #51, 52,

    That’s exactly what I meant but communicated imperfectly. Thank you for adding that clarity for me.

  55. Kevin said,

    February 5, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Jeff,

    I don’t know what Greek mss you are looking at, but there is no way [i]tois hagiois[/i] can be “read” as you put it. You are supplying a verb (and theological concept!) in English that isn’t there in Greek.

    Just my $.02.

  56. David Weiner said,

    February 5, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Hi Jeff,

    “Long time” – well, yes and no. You have not been blessed with my brilliance (insert several smiley faces); but, I have continued to benefit from your amazing gifts all the while as I lurk here.

    I want to be careful not to repeat our rather extended previous exchange on the ‘church.’ I believe we ended with one should treat all who appear to be Christians as such and all the others as elect who are not yet regenerated. One caveat, church membership (baptism) is not a deterministic input to the Christian/non-Christian estimation. Hope that is close to what you were trying to explain to me.

    Your preferred view is

    “(3) Paul did not know who the elect were and was speaking to the whole church on the assumption that they all ought to have been elect, in keeping with their profession.”

    I have to respectfully say that I don’t see Paul making any assumptions in his writings. I really think Dr. White has nailed it in his last paragraph of #49 and then again in #51. So, I really should just stop; but, . . . .

    The letters are not ‘Paul talking to the churches.’ It is the word of God and the non-elect hear these words as foolishness. In fact, from personal experience, I know that the elect, non-regenerated hear these words as foolishness. You mention 1 and 2 Thessalonians as indicating a letter to the whole church. Even here, there are so many descriptors added in the first few verses that it can only be addressed to the elect.

    Let me retract what I have been saying as ‘only addressed to the elect’ and expand it a little. We are talking about God’s word. It is addressed to everybody. But, it’s purpose/effect (if I may be so bold) is different for different groups of people:

    1) The reprobate have their hearts hardened.
    2) The elect, non-regenerate have their hearts softened
    3) The elect, regenerate have their faith strengthened.

    So, is the new testament written to the reprobate who happen to have been baptized, well, yes and no. However, the words are ‘clear’ and the letters are addressed to the saved only. Nevertheless, the letters are heard by all and have impact on all.

  57. Jeff Cagle said,

    February 5, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    David, Bob, Dr. White, Kevin: thanks for your feedback. Clearly, I need to retool this. Certainly, I would not wish to insert verbs into the text of Scripture!

    There are two issues on the table.

    First, is Paul addressing “the saints in Ephesus” and only “the saints in Ephesus”? Yes. Dr. White’s point about categories is valid. A preacher can speak “to the married men” without having them individually in mind. If we think of communication as a process with two ends, the receiving end is “the saints.”

    Second, on the sending end, whom is Paul considering to be “the saints in Ephesus”? This is the point I was trying to address. If we take Dr. White’s point about categories to its conclusion, the answer would be “no one in particular.” That seems to be also what Bob and David were urging.

    But this answer is incomplete (though true). It emphasizes the *hidden* nature of election without acknowledging that the elect are visibly and properly gathered in the church, which is why Paul sends the letter to the church and not to some other group.

    Let’s consider a reductio argument: if “to the saints in Ephesus” is a category *only*, then Paul could have written the letter to — say, the town council, or the synagogue. There could be saints there.

    But he didn’t. He addressed the letter, as all his letters, to the Church because the Church is the proper assembly of the saints. In writing it to the Church, to be read aloud to the members of the Church, he is granting them the charity to be considered saints as far as he knows. Or put another way, by sending a letter to the Church, he is granting each member the possibility that he belongs to “the saints”, without making a definitive assertion of their status.

    Paul is like a preacher speaking to a married-men’s conference *as married men* — while knowing that there might be singles there.

    David, you mentioned 1 Thessalonians. I think that’s an excellent example of what I’m saying:

    Paul, Silas and Timothy,
    To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
    Grace and peace to you.

    We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

    For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

    Here Paul addresses the Church as body, and then speaks to them as if what he said applied to them all (including that they are “chosen” – εκλογην – I don’t know the semantic relationship of this to exelektw). Did it actually apply to all of them? No, of course not. But he speaks generally of them all, knowing that it actually only applies to a subset.

    He positively equates “the church of the Thessalonians” with “the brothers loved by God.”

    We all agree that he is not speaking absolutely, as if every single member were in fact a brother. Instead, we might say that he is “speaking charitably”, or “speaking statistically”, or “speaking of what should be true of all of them.”

    But we cannot say that when Paul says “the church of the Thessalonians”, he is speaking only to a category. He does say “church”, after all.

    Right?

    What’s difficult about this is that Paul’s language is ambiguous. What I sense in David’s approach is a desire to remove the ambiguity by referring “the Church” to the invisible Church only. But I think Paul is ambiguous because we live ambiguously. On the one hand, we acknowledge the Real Reality of God’s decree to elect. On the other, we can only speak to what we see. That’s the problem of knowledge; that’s where (I think) Paul lives.

    Certainly, the Confession lives there:

    25.1. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.

    2. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

    3. Unto this catholic visible Church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto.

    4. This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

    I think David sums up the ambiguity well: “So, is the new testament written to the reprobate who happen to have been baptized, well, yes and no. However, the words are ‘clear’ and the letters are addressed to the saved only.”

    Jeff Cagle

  58. rfwhite said,

    February 5, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    57 Jeff, you write, ” … on the sending end, whom is Paul considering to be ‘the saints in Ephesus’? This is the point I was trying to address. If we take Dr. White’s point about categories to its conclusion, the answer would be ‘no one in particular.’ That seems to be also what Bob and David were urging.”

    My response: Help. I don’t understand why, if we take my point about categories (class, classification) to its conclusion, we would not say that the answer to the question — whom is Paul considering to be “the saints in Ephesus”? — is “no one in particular” but rather “everyone in particular who belongs to that classification (category).”

    I don’t think we’re that far apart, but it’s probably worth it to try and sort this out. Let me try something to see if you, Jeff, David, Bob, and I can agree.

    Can we say that the biblical authors are addressing the household of faith in their writings and are operating with a couple of premises about the faith professed by their audiences? Can we say, on the one hand, that the authors could not have fully and finally differentiated the faith of their audiences as saving faith, and so the authors exhorted their audiences to perseverance, particularly in response to temptation and trial, with promises of everlasting blessing for perseverance and warnings of everlasting curse for apostasy? Can we also say that the authors did provisionally differentiate the faith of their audiences as saving faith, and so the authors ascribed to their audiences all sorts of blessedness and describe them by all manner of title bespeaking their election. Can we also say that wherever God inspired the authors to write about individuals and to make statements about their election and salvation, there those statements are true?

  59. Jeff Cagle said,

    February 6, 2009 at 7:35 am

    I fully agree with the last para.

    I don’t understand why, if we take my point about categories (class, classification) to its conclusion, we would not say that the answer to the question — whom is Paul considering to be “the saints in Ephesus”? — is “no one in particular” but rather “everyone in particular who belongs to that classification (category).”

    What I meant was that Paul is not considering anyone by name to be elect (hence, “in particular”).

    Jeff Cagle

  60. rfwhite said,

    February 6, 2009 at 8:04 am

    59 Jeff, can’t we agree also that Paul (a biblical author) ordinarily considers persons by class — by reason of common attribute(s) — and doesn’t ordinarily consider anyone by name? Only extraordinarily does he consider persons by name, right?

  61. David Weiner said,

    February 6, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Dr. White, re: #58,

    You ask in your last paragraph if we ” Can . . . ?” (I count 4 ‘can’s).

    Can 1: Yes, if the term ‘household of faith’ comprises those in the ‘invisible church’ that hear the letter read. The only premise I see that Paul has to be making is that the letter will be read. The specific make up of any particular group hearing the letter is not a necessary condition for what he wrote. This would be so even where he seems to be addressing a particular problem in a particular city. I get this from my grasp of the words; not from my grasp of Paul’s unstated motives. Paul was an evangelist, among other things, and most probably did intend that the lost in all groups hearing the letters would be moved to trust. But, I don’t see that in the words. His letters spread ‘seeds’ and he would have been trusting God to use them for His glory in any way that He might choose. For example, we are reading these letters today and most probably have never been to Ephesus.

    Can 2: Yes; but . . . The exhortation to perseverance would seem to only make sense to those who were already saved. These exhortations would not cause an apostate member of a church to ultimately persevere? Can people be ‘bribed’ into the kingdom? Can people be ‘scared’ into the kingdom?

    Can 3: Yes; I don’t quite understand the necessity of the word ‘provisionally’ in your question but it doesn’t hinder my ‘yes’ answer.

    Can 4: Yes, indeed.

  62. revkev1967 said,

    February 6, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Dr. White,

    Re 60, you wrote, “59 Jeff, can’t we agree also that Paul (a biblical author) ordinarily considers persons by class — by reason of common attribute(s) — and doesn’t ordinarily consider anyone by name? Only extraordinarily does he consider persons by name, right?”

    I don’t think that is accurate at all. Certainly he opens his letters with general greetings, but he almost always closes them with personal ones. There is no reason to believe that in his mind the former group does not include the latter in his mind. Romans 16:13 jumps to mind as an important example. There Paul greets Rufus, whom he calls “chosen in the Lord.” I don’t think this is an extraordinary recognition of someonw he plainly calls elect.

  63. Reed Here said,

    February 6, 2009 at 9:31 am

    No. 62, RevKev (your name ?): I think you are observing Dr. White’s point. It is not a matter of simple counting up of instances. If that were the case, then your observation would be supported.

    Rather, Paul’s usage demonstrates that his primary focus is the class, and that only in a tertiary manner does he reference individuals. Occassionally he references particular individuals in application of his main point, but even the are usually a negative reference, and to be sure not relevant to the particular question here.

    Usually the individuals referenced are, as you note, at the end of the letter, and in no way function agains the point Dr. White is making, to wit Paul’s general class reference in terms of his main point(s).

  64. rfwhite said,

    February 6, 2009 at 11:47 am

    62 revkev1967, what you describe is what I meant to anticipate by distinguising between what Paul does extraordinarily and what he does ordinarily. When he “names names” — names a member of the class — that’s extraordinary.

  65. Jeff Cagle said,

    February 6, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Dr. White (#60):

    Can’t we agree also that Paul (a biblical author) ordinarily considers persons by class — by reason of common attribute(s) — and doesn’t ordinarily consider anyone by name?

    Yes and No.

    Yes: Paul often speaks to or of classes of people. Ephesians and Romans are two books in which this happens frequently.

    No: Paul does not make the hardened distinctions we do between “class” and “individual.” RevKev points out rightly that Paul moves freely between classes and individuals in Romans, and attributes the class of “chosen” to a particular individual — though we agree that this is a provisional attribution, yes?

    Likewise in Ephesians, Paul speaks of “the Church” as a body, but then speaks of the individuals as distinct, non-interchangeable (see Rom 12!) members of that body.

    So on the one hand, “the Church” is made of “the saints”; but on the other, the saints are individual and unique people who are more than generic representatives of their class.

    So we have the following ambiguities in Paul:

    The Church as a unit versus the Church as people
    The Church as the saints in reality versus the Church as the saints as we see them.

    We see the same kind of ambiguities in the Gospels:

    John 6.66: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

    So were they “disciples” or not?

    Clearly, they were apparently disciples, or disciples as seen by the eye, but not in heart.

    And we’ve together been arguing here that the growth of plants in the rocky and thorny soils is apparent, or “to human sight” growth, only. Right?

    It’s my contention that Paul and other Biblical writers move back and forth between God’s view (the real view) and man’s view — and only sometimes distinguishes them.

    And on occasion, the collision between these two points of view leads to language that seems incongruent.

    Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

    Have they really shipwrecked and rejected the faith? Then how can they be taught not to blaspheme? It makes no sense if we insist on a “God’s view” interpretation of language. But it makes all manner of sense if we accept that Paul moves back and forth between views, just as he shifts back and forth between different uses of “law” in the back half of Romans 7.

    One final evidence: Paul closes Ephesians with this:

    “Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing.”

    I think we agree that “you” here means the whole church, yes? Should this not then qualify how we read 1.1?

    I conclude from this that Paul is not consistent in speaking to classes or individuals, but sometimes to one, sometimes to the other.

    Jeff Cagle

  66. rfwhite said,

    February 6, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    61 David W., thanks for testing this working hypothesis. (I’m sure someone has already written a monograph on it somewhere!) Here is some interaction.

    Regarding “Can 1″: the conditional clause in your answer illustrates the point I intended to raise: with what premise(s) about his audience does the human author write? My hypothesis was that the visible church was his audience. Stay with me here: if it is true that the specific makeup of any particular group of hearers is not a necessary condition for what he wrote, then, Paul’s premise(s) about his audience, his motives notwithstanding, must be the visible church, right? As an evangelist-apostle, Paul delivers the word of God to a humanity that is in the midst of the historical process of differentiation and not yet fully and finally differentiated into saved and judged. The occasional character of the biblical (canonical, aka covenantal) documents facilitates the differentiation of humanity generally and the visible church especially.

    Regarding “Can 2″: You are right that the exhortations to perseverance only make sense to those who were already saved; these exhortations would not cause an apostate member of a church to persevere. On the contrary, the failure of a professed believer to embrace the promises and heed the warnings is part of the historical process by which the apostate is differentiated.

    Regarding “Can 3″: I added the word ‘provisionally’ to allude to the fact that the biblical authors deal with their recipients and their faith as they find them: in the midst of a process of historical diffentiation, not after that process is done.

  67. rfwhite said,

    February 6, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    65 Jeff, I think our posts crossed in the mail, or you missed my response to RevKev in 64. My addition of the word “ordinarily” was intended to allow for what is done extraordinarily. It is on what is done extraordinarily that your discussion, for the most part, focuses.

    One of the problems we may be facing in this exchange is that we are not distinguishing carefully between the distributive (individual, individuated) and collective use of terms.

  68. revkev1967 said,

    February 6, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Dr. White, I guess I am not comfortable with the terms that are being bantered about. There really is no exegetical evidence that Paul views the church corporately without any regard to its several members or vice versa. What I mean is, a collective address does not mean that he does not intend to speak to individuals that make up that group. In other words, I think the ordinary/extraordinary division you make reaches beyond the conventions of normal communication.

  69. David Weiner said,

    February 6, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Dr. White,

    Please forgive me if I am just being dense (it is not intentional). I think I agree with you. Please let me know if I am still missing the point. If that would involve many pages, please don’t trouble yourself.

    Paul is writing to the visible churches of his time and of which he was aware. If nothing else, this was a practical choice. It was then the ‘job’ of the churches (including the unsaved members) to see that those outside of the churches ‘got’ the message.

    Sometimes he had heard of specific situations and responded to them and sometimes he wrote generally. In either case, he didn’t know the particular state (redeemed/reprobate) of any particular person who might hear his letters. Thus, we should not infer anything about his recipients, in general, either. Nevertheless, as a good communicator, he made it reasonably clear whom he was targeting within the set of hearers and the content of his messages seems to be directed almost exclusively to saved hearers.

  70. Jeff Cagle said,

    February 6, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Dr. White (#67):

    I think I’m OK with where we are. I would just add that my set of “ordinary” includes some of the cases you label as “extraordinary”, which is a matter of words.

    Let me finish by advancing some of the motivations for “normative election” to describe what you have called “provisional judgment”, and then one criticism of my own position.

    First, I believe the Scripture requires us to honor the visible church members as if they are elect (unless evidence shows otherwise). For this reason, I want to describe their status in a way that brings our ethical obligations to one another to the fore. Hence: “normative.”

    Second, if we speak of the Invisible Church and Visible Church as two separate sets *only* without emphasizing their organic unity, we run the risk of adopting a Kantian epistemology wrt each other. We risk shoving the Invisible Church out into the noumenal, the Visible into the phenomenal, and creating a hard wall of separation between the two.

    By contrast, I think the NT paints a picture of freer intercourse between noumenal and phenomenal in the Church. Excommunication means something, as does Church membership. The actions of Church leadership are not finally and ultimately binding, but they are the actions of Christ’s representatives.

    Likewise, the Visible Church is that locus where the Invisible is built up. There is substantial organic unity between the two.

    But this is not the whole story. Visible church membership is not a guarantee of invisible church membership, but rather provisional evidence of it. Excommunication is not final exclusion from the kingdom of God, but rather a statement of evidence: “As far as we can tell, your behavior (or belief) is not the behavior of a Christian.”

    As a way of trying to express the complicated relationship between the two, I’ve settled on “normative election” — that all those within the Church *ought* to be elect, according to their profession. (And if not, they ought to leave!). And further, that we are normatively obligated to treat Church members as brothers and Church leaders as fathers.

    NOW, all of this is on the understanding that normative election is provisional, conditioned by situational evidence (the fruit and profession of the Church member) and existential evidence (the heart of the Church member as he reads it). If all three of those factors are in agreement, then we have a high degree of confidence of salvation. But if not, then we don’t.

    My self-criticism, coming from this discussion, is that the phrase “normatively elect” possibly communicates too much confidence in the election of Church members.

    Thoughts?

    Jeff Cagle

  71. February 6, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    OK, I’m lost. I have been busy today and haven’t kept up with the flow of the discussion. Here’s’ my $.02:

    I believe that Paul’s intended immediate audience for his letter to the Ephesians was the elect in Ephesus. The letter makes no sense to me otherwise. I think that the specific descriptions in Chapters 1 & 2 preclude the reprobate entirely, whether in or out of the visible church, because it’s just too specific to be a judgment of charity, especially given the specific addressees in the intro.

    Now, did Paul know specifically who was elect? Obviously, only God knows that for sure. But Paul didn’t need that knowledge. He could send it to the church at large (visible church), and the elect therein would recognize themselves through the usual means of assurance by the Spirit. The reprobate can read the letter, but by definition, it will be just words to them without the illumination of the Spirit. Just because the reprobate can physically read the letter, it doesn’t mean that it was written to them. I can read letters from Ben Franklin to his wife, but they weren’t written to me. For the reprobate, any hope they derive from the letter is a false hope, just as their faith if illusory. I believe that Jesus’ term for them is “hypocrits”.

    That’s the way that I see it. I think that it’s close to Dr. White’s proposal, but not identical.

  72. rfwhite said,

    February 6, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    68 revkev, I sincerely appreciate your discomfort. I don’t mean to imply, as you say, “that Paul views the church corporately without any regard to its several members or vice versa” or “that he does not intend to speak to individuals that make up that group.” Paul does speak to and about individuals as well as about groups.

  73. Reed Here said,

    February 6, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    No. 71, Bob: that was good.

  74. rfwhite said,

    February 6, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    69 David W, I believe we’re tracking. I read your comments as an unpacking of what I meant by “the biblical authors deal with their recipients and their faith as they find them,” namely, somwhere along a historical process that God is governing through His word according to His decree until they enter their final state of grace or wrath.

  75. rfwhite said,

    February 6, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    70 Jeff, I think we’re OK too. :-) I appreciate your emphasis that we should be careful to avoid talking about the Invisible Church and Visible Church as if they are two separate sets *only* without emphasizing their organic unity.

  76. rfwhite said,

    February 6, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    71 Bob, you’re not lost; you just don’t know where we are. :-) Seriously, the only detail in which we seem to differ is how to talk about Paul’s intended audience. I lack the vocabulary and concepts at the moment to improve on the expression of the distinction I’m trying to make. I know I’m not ready to dump the judgment of charity, properly defined.. Perhaps it would illuminate things to compare the audiences of Galatians and Ephesians sometime.

    Speaking of illumination, it occurs to me that reading a letter without the blessing of God is like hearing a parable without the blessing of God. It falls on deaf ears, blind eyes, and hard hearts.

  77. February 6, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Dr. White,

    Thank you for #76. I reread #58 and I believe that we have only one disconnect–the intended audience for Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In comment #58, I agree with your last paragraph and all four “cans” for a number of letters, but not for Ephesians and others which specifically address the elect. I wrote a couple of posts on my blog about this over a year ago. For us orthodox Reformed folk, this isn’t that big a deal. I can live with where we’re at on this, and appreciate your gracious interaction.

  78. February 6, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Dr. White,

    Speaking of illumination, it occurs to me that reading a letter without the blessing of God is like hearing a parable without the blessing of God. It falls on deaf ears, blind eyes, and hard hearts.

    Amen!

  79. jared said,

    February 10, 2009 at 12:13 am

    Reed (#33),

    You say,

    First, decretal election in/and of itself is not the basis of assurance. Rather, the basis is the “divine truth of the promises of salvation.” A better composite term for this, comprising the whole of these promises would be the Covenant of Grace. To be sure, decretal election is a critical component of this, probably marking the key connection between the CoG and the Covenant of Redemption. Yet to load the whole function of “basis of assurance” onto election is to overload and demand of this principle a functionality it has not been given by God. It is of such slight defects that much larger errors grow.

    I can concede this, it doesn’t affect my position. I don’t think Doug would disagree with you here either. Decretal election may not be the only basis for election but that is a superfluous point, really. The point is that the FV does affirm that you can have assurance and that this assurance is born of no extraordinary means (as per the Confession). You continue,

    Second,WCF 18.3 observes that the Spirit’s infallible testimony of assurance (WCF 18.2) is made ours through the “right use of the ordinary means of grace.” Clearly, in the Westminster Standards, these means of grace can only be understood as the ministry of the Word, sacraments and prayer. It is these means that serve as the receptive cause of assurance, the “by faith” cause.

    Again, I agree. How is this contrary to any of what I’ve said? You continue,

    Third, and this is where I believe DW’s position is most flawed, the elements you list from WCF 18.1, the “truly believ[ing] in the Lord Jesus, and lov[ing] him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him,” are decidedly NOT the “only” means of “attaining” this infallible assurance. Quite the contrary, these are not means of receiving assurance at all. This function is exclusively reserved for the means of grace (as defined previously).

    You’re misunderstanding. I agree that WCF 18.1 describes who can have assurance not how one gets it. The “how” comes in section 3 of the chapter. You say,

    It is at this point that the FV (including DW) is in error in importing Shepherdism into their scheme. Shepherdism assigns (at the very least) a receptive causal function to the fruits of the Spirit, in particular the outward “good works” through which the inward fruits evidence themselves. This is the fatal flaw of Shepherdism. It assigns the receptive causal function, assigned exclusively to the means of grace, to our good works.

    I’m not sure what “receptive causal function” means within the context of Shepherdism, but I don’t think Doug would disagree with me here. The WCF is clear: only the decretaly elect can have assurance and this assurance is obtained by the “right use of ordinary means”. Here is what Williamson says about this phrase:

    “As we (by God’s strength and grace) diligently use the appointed means of grace, striving after holiness in conformity with the commandments of God, we attain unto and sustain assurance. Since this assurance is the fruit of diligence it cannot lead to carelessness. The tree determines the nature of the fruit, and not vice versa. Assurance is a fruit of grace. The tree from which it comes is that working of the Spirit of God which makes a believer diligent from the heart to God’s commands. The root is grace, the tree is diligence, and the fruit is assurance.”

    This sounds like classic Reformed theology and FV theology all put nicely together as they should be (on this point). You continue,

    WCF 18.1 reference to these three fruits is not to note that assurance is attained by our efforts in and through them. It references these to note that their absolute/relative absence will effect our experience of assurance. The effect is not direct, as in that we cannot obtain the assurance via our efforts to pursue these fruits. Rather the effect is indirect. The degree to which I do not exhibit these three is intended to drive me expressly back to my need for Christ, and it does so by faith in that I am directed to the use of the means of grace.

    It seems like WCF 18.3 is at odds with your understanding. The “fruits” of 18.1 are a prerequisite for assurance and I can agree that to the extent we exhibit them so is our assurance affected. But the Confession is clear that it is “right use” which obtains assurance. It doesn’t just come and randomly settle down in your heart one day, you have to work for it. This is how the Confession breaks down assurance: section 1 is “who can obtain it”, section 2 is “what it entails”, section 3 is “how to get it” and section 4 is “it doesn’t make things easier”. You say,

    The effective cause of assurance is the testimony of the Spirit. The receptive cause is my by faith use of the means of grace. This is where, and only where, my “attaining” efforts are to be placed. These three fruits in WCF 18.1 are nothing more than the evidence that supports my experience of assurance.

    I would say the effective cause of assurance is grace. The testimony of the Spirit is just one of those graces which play a defining role in what assurance consists of. The receptive cause is, of course, the right use of ordinary means or your “attaining” efforts, which is both my point and the FV’s point (or Doug’s point at least). You say,

    Assurance is not rooted in my reliance on these evidences. They do not in any manner function in the “attainment” of assurance. They only support, in that the encourage me, to rely exclusively on the testimony of the Spirit received by faith via the means of grace.

    I agree that assurance is not rooted in your reliance on “these evidences”, it’s rooted in grace. However it is also a product of your “right use” (thinking back to Williamson’s analogy). It is important to keep in mind that your “right use” is Spirit-wrought; it is by God’s strength (and design) that you continue in faith. But it is something you do which obtains assurance. This is what I’ve been saying and I think it is what Doug is saying. You conclude,

    Here is a serious error of the FV, promulgated by even a moderate FV proponent. It is of such defects that the much worse and egregious errors of the FV flow. This is why Jared, with all sincerity and seriousness, we FV critics pray that both FV proponents, and non-proponents-but-sympathetic listeners as yourself , would be shown what we see.

    The FV may have some serious error, but it is not at this point. Here, it seems, the FV is more confessional than those arguing against it.

    Ron Henzel (#37),

    You say,

    This is a crucial point. Both for that reason and for lack of time, I will focus on it exclusively. Frankly, I believe this simply is not true! The only charitable representation I can put on this statement of yours is that you really have not read much FV literature. You need to read Rich Lusk’s article on baptismal efficacy, hosted on Mark Horne’s site, in which he declares, “Baptism into membership in the community of Christ therefore also confers the arrabon [ἀρραβὼν, Eph. 1:14] of the Spirit, and in this sense too is a ‘regenerating’ ordinance.” Steve Wilkins has made even stronger statements along these lines. To say that Calvin’s denial that those who fall away in the parable of the sower were ever truly regenerate does not affect the FV’s position (regardless of how it may affect yours) is to simply flat-out contradict many very public FV statements that baptized people who fall away were truly regenerate.

    Lusk, Horne and Wilkins are all wrong if they believe the non-elect covenant member has true regeneration or that true regeneration can be reversed somehow. However, I think all three of them (and every other FV advocate) would agree that the “true believer” (the decretally elect) cannot have their faith extinguished or their regeneration lost. I believe all three of them say as much in “The Federal Vision”. That they want to put everything under the heading of “objective covenant” does not necessitate some slick sleight of hand systematic theology (or that “functional equivalence” everyone keeps talking about) in order to remain Reformed. The more critics push a negative concept of “FV agenda” the more sympathetic people like me become; they are not peddling a “different gospel” like so many in Rome.

    Vern (#39)

    You say,

    The problem with FVism is that it turns things into an all or nothing affair. Assurance is NOT looking into the decree; no it’s x, y & z. Let’s NOT listen to systematic theology but listen to the way the Bible speaks. Let’s NOT teach the bad old TULIP stuff, but let’s tell everyone about covenantal objectivity. So says FVism.

    Well, assurance is not looking into the decree; at least according to the WCF. So they’re okay in my book on that point. I don’t think they are admonishing folks not to listen or look at systematic theology either and I’m pretty sure most of them are five petal Calvinists. You quip,

    This dualism is ultimately what happens when theologians unwittingly try to look at election and covenant through the lens of Kantianism.

    I can only assume you are loosely charging the FV with modifying the noumena/phenomena distinction of Kant’s idealism where, in this particular instance, the decree of election is the “noumenon” and objective covenant is the “phenomenon”. Here I will only note two things: (1) You seem to underestimate (or misapprehend) the value of Kant’s contribution to philosophy (yes, I’m aware his theology was quite lacking) and (2) you mischaracterize FV theology as “Kantian” if you have in mind this distinction.

    Jeff Cagle (#42,

    You say,

    In short: since we agree that God sees apostates always as apostates, it seems that we must ascribe reality to God’s point of view and apparency to what we see.

    Speaking of Kant… just kidding! I don’t think FV’s “genuine growth” necessarily means being sealed by the Spirit, being adopted, etc., though I will grant that some (many?) argue that it does. I see “genuine growth” as just how I’ve been explaining it: the presence of the powerful word (seed) facilitates real life even if that life does not fully mature in every instance. I keep getting asked “How can it be ‘real’ if it doesn’t mature?” but I wonder how it can’t be real if it’s produced by the word. That this life in some instances does not fully mature is not indicative of failure on part of the word to produce life, rather it is indicative of the predetermined hostility of the heart (soil) in those particular cases. I think the FV is right that the three types of soil experience the same kind of life (life that is word-wrought). And I think the critics are right that the three types of soil don’t experience the same kind of life (life resulting in crops/salvation).

    But even if we go the “FV dark” route, it seems to me that they would agree with you (and me) on this point. God never sees the apostate as anything else even though He allows them, for a time, to look like something else in our eyes. The concept of “temporary salvation” or a parallel ordo is from our perspective, which is the only perspective we have. God has revealed some aspects of His perspective in His word (e.g. that there is a group of people whom He has chosen from before the foundations of the earth) but even those revelations we experience and comprehend in a finite manner.

  80. February 11, 2009 at 9:25 am

    [...] leave a comment » Green Baggins begins to work through the New Testament data. [...]


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